Scientific risk communication about controversial issues influences public perceptions of scientists’ political orientations and credibility

Emily Vraga, Teresa Myers, John Kotcher, Lindsey Beall, Ed Maibach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations

Abstract

Many scientists communicate with the public about risks associated with scientific issues, but such communication may have unintended consequences for how the public views the political orientations and the credibility of the communicating scientist. We explore this possibility using an experiment with a nationally representative sample of Americans in the fall of 2015. We find that risk communication on controversial scientific issues sometimes influences perceptions of the political orientations and credibility of the communicating scientist when the scientist addresses the risks of issues associated with conservative or liberal groups. This relationship is moderated by participant political ideology, with liberals adjusting their perceptions of the scientists’ political beliefs more substantially when the scientist addressed the risks of marijuana use when compared with other issues. Conservatives’ political perceptions were less impacted by the issue context of the scientific risk communication but indirectly influenced credibility perceptions. Our results support a contextual model of audience interpretation of scientific risk communication. Scientists should be cognizant that audience members may make inferences about the communicating

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number170505
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Volume5
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Ethics. Approval to collect data was granted to the authors by Institutional Review Board of George Mason University no. 748350-6, OSP #202471 on 25 September 2015. Data accessibility. The data are included as a supplementary file to this publication. Authors’ contributions. E.V., T.M., J.K. and E.M. designed the study. E.V. and T.M. performed the data analysis. All the authors helped draft the manuscript and gave their final approval for publication. Competing interests. The authors declare there are no competing interests. Funding. This research was supported by the National Aeronautics and Space Association (Award no. NNX11AQ80G).

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the National Aeronautics and Space Association (Award no. NNX11AQ80G).

Keywords

  • Motivated reasoning
  • Perceptions of scientists
  • Political ideology
  • Risk communication
  • Science communication

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article

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